The baby’s digestion
During the first few days after birth, the newborn baby’s poop consists of meconium, a dark green, almost black, sticky substance. Within a few days, the baby’s poop will become looser and yellowish in colour. At first, the baby may poop frequently. Some babies even pass stool every time they have been fed. This is an important sign that the baby is getting enough milk. The interval between two bowel movements will gradually grow longer. However, it is normal to have some variation in how often the baby poops. One baby may poop five times a day, while another may only do so once a week. Breastfed babies often poop very little and may take up to ten days between two bowel movements without being constipated. If you are breastfeeding your baby, the colour of the baby’s poop may vary from yellowish to greenish. The scent is usually mild or slightly sour. Babies who eat infant formula usually poop a few times a week. Their poop is usually more solid compared to that of breastfed babies.
Long intervals between bowel movements may cause the baby to feel restless and fussy. The baby may have trouble pooping even if they do not suffer from constipation. You can stimulate the baby’s defecation (pooping) reflex by moving the baby’s legs in a cycling motion or by gently massaging the baby’s tummy clockwise in the direction of the intestines. A warm bath may also help. If you suspect that your baby may be constipated, bring the matter up at the child health clinic. Sometimes the treatment of constipation requires medication. Before giving your baby any medicine, talk to the child health clinic staff.
Gas and spitting up
It is very common for babies to have gas and spit up after eating. When gas gets trapped in the baby’s intestines, it may cause the baby some pain. The baby may be restless or fussy, squirm or cry. If the baby swallows a lot of air while eating, they may have gas or spit up. The easiest way to get rid of excess air is to burp the baby while you feed them or immediately after. Babies usually spit up because their lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a group of muscles that separates the oesophagus from the stomach, is not fully developed. This means that the group of muscles is so weak that both air and milk from the stomach get to the oesophagus. Breastfed babies easily swallow excess air if the mother has a forceful let-down. The mother can make eating easier by using a breast pump to collect the milk that shoots from her nipples before starting to breastfeed. If you use a bottle to feed the baby, keep the teat (the “nipple” part) always full of milk to prevent the baby from swallowing air.
You can help your baby pass gas for example by moving the baby’s legs in a cycling motion, gently massaging the baby’s tummy clockwise in the direction of the intestines and holding the baby in an upright position or on their belly when the baby is awake. You can also avoid spit-ups by keeping the baby in an upright position as often as you can and not rolling them around immediately after feeding. A baby that has gas is likely to prefer sleeping on the side rather than on the back. In addition, pharmacies sell products that contain lactic acid bacteria. These can help balance the baby’s digestive tract. Pharmacies also sell baby gas drops that break up gas bubbles in the intestines.
If your baby is spitting up very forcefully, this may be a symptom of reflux. Reflux symptoms mean that stomach contents constantly flow back up into the oesophagus. For babies aged 0–2 months, this may cause vomiting, crying, restlessness and nursing strikes, and the baby may stiffen their muscles or arch their back. Meanwhile, gastroesophageal reflux disease usually causes very strong symptoms. If necessary, the disease can be diagnosed with an oesophageal pH test at the hospital.
Babies usually gradually stop spitting up as their digestive system matures or at least at around the age of six months when the baby starts eating solid foods. There is no reason to worry about your baby’s spit-ups if the baby is growing well and is happy. If you are worried about your baby’s spit-ups, talk about them at the child health clinic.